The Beer Tribe

He, louchely lounging,
Sweltering heat; sweltering beards
Loose-hanging camo vests,
Close-cut leggings, thigh slashed –
Beany hat, woolily cool,
Arms braided with tatts, Pictish hero…
Or urban warrior?
She, pierced beyond Brosnan,
Flip-flops in winter,
Hair dyed in Nu-Age Violet
Tied back in a tie-dyed sling,
Fresh from slaying Goliath
Yet this bar lives; pulses
To rhythms of the Veldt –
And the beers, their menagerie:
Little Creatures, Queen of the Night,
Raging Bitch, Flying Dog,
Moose Fang, Holy Cowbell,
And the poor, rag-tag Dead Pony
Rule the roost here.
And you’re not welcome:
Sly looks, knowing grins quickly concealed.
You, with your shaved chin and slim cut jeans –
You, with short-sleeved shirt and smart sneakers –
Cost a pretty penny but not a penny well spent
In their eyes.
Their eyes betray condescension
Their eyes are only
For the ‘in’ crowd, the beer crowd –
Their eyes lap up uncrafted craftiness;
A beacon of their anti-individualism.
Their eyes betray them
Sucking up; hoovering up
Their unspoken conformity.

Uprooted

When the storm cut through, it cut;
Not a samurai-sharp, clean, incisive cut –
But blunt, deep, savage – butcher’s cuts
Cleaving and sawing, to and fro
Until the job was done.
It raced, the wind. It raced and grabbed.
Laughing, it grappled the trees –
Like a fatigued father, numb through insolence
Shaking a child; but no remorse – just brutish joy.
It took without mercy; pitilessly and persistently;
Saplings, vibrant with the life of warming days, slapped down.
Adolescents, lippy with age, put in their place;
And the wise old ones, their wisdom scattered.
Uprooted, lost.
And we pick up the pieces now.
The old wall, tumbled, can be repaired.
The car, rippled with dents, ironed out.
The windbreak of youthful poplars, replanted.
But the lament of the wild runs deeper –
Baleful calls; grey-eyed mournfulness
Families destroyed,
And lives
Uprooted.

Uprooted

Mating calls

The shrill penetrating attack of a Greenfinch
Insistent, urgent, agitated – calls for a lost love up above.
In the hedgerow, the calmer, bass, wooing
Chitter-chat of a love-struck Great Tit.
Away, under a straggly drooping laurel,
The guttural, dirty laughter of flirting pheasants;
And in the distance, the boorish, drone
Of a chainsaw; tediously barking the mating call
Of extinction.

Double decker

The double decker, modest carmine and tuscan sun
thirty hands high, or more,
portholes stretching lengthways,
the captain steering below.

A hulk, a tub, of excitement and wonder,
a bus, as conjured in the innocent mind of youth –
travel, wondrous freedom, adventure –
a ship no doubt, but not any old ship, not even one.

A skiff, reaching and stretching,
beetling across a choppy river mouth,
sails flapping to catch the breeze.

That sickening sway side to side,
a fishing boat leaving the shelter of a sea wall,
slapped by cross-currents.

The heave, this trawler of humans; too high
yet outwardly stable, rocking
between the billows on a tarmac sea.

Yawing, with every little road bump;
no smoothness, no guile,
a gale, blowing Force 9 to 10.

Racing, no keel, no spinnaker,
yet on this two-up road, the thrumming diesel
coughs and whines, leaning into bends, braggishly.

Until we arrive at safely at port
like an ice-breaker, pushing through flotsam and jetsam
crisp packets to port, heeled-in chuddy to starboard.

Abandoned

It’s said that Lyonesse lies submerged,
Like a shallow dream,
Covered in crab pots, ruptured buoys, starfish
And mythical swords
Abandoned, until we need them most.

Yet, north of there,
As the stream flows
As the clouds skitter
Lie the gnarled rock clutter
The last bastion – or the advance guard
Depending how you face –

Of St Kilda

Where the people called for help
Sung for boats and sailed away
Hearth and home left, lost;
A hole in the heart
Punctured deep, thrust through
All choices gone; hope gone too.

Yet, peering down on our aqua globe
Through the magnified penetrating eye
Of sordid satellite spying
Those homes and hearths remain
Solid walls, thick-set,
Sheelings, like stone circles
Misaligned, unless you
See the world like a box-eyed Soay;
Field walls, crinkled up hill sides;
Wind breaks, braced sou’westerly
Ragged into the wind.

Why then, in this hustle bustle time
With this ‘shrinking’ globe
Cluttered by business,
Does hope not remain?
A long line under the sea;
Or imagined lines through the air;
Or just a deep keeled boat, cutting the waves;
Is surely all it needs?

Unless you come from Lyonesse.

Conkers lie dying

The slopes of Tall Chimneys –
Vengeful with grasping hands
Eager teens scratching; raking through dirt,
Scrabbling in the root boles
For nature’s Gold;
No fools here, real treasure,
Traded on the Clippers and Skiffs
The Junks of school boys’ pockets –
Shards of snot rags sieved out;
Old sweets, dented half Pennies;
Removed, to leave true worth.

Down in the park,
Bedraggled Horse Chestnuts
Coated with dappled leaves
Under fire from the artillery
Of bald-headed tennis balls stuffed in socks
Of snapped branches, hurled in spinning arcs;
The collateral damage of this onslaught,
This barrel bombing…
Leaves’ fall forced, Autumn early
A camouflage carpet
Covering the prize.

Yet they were found. All of them.
Fine Fare carrier bags, old hats, stuffed
Even the faux-furred hood
Of the old plastic Parka,
Ragged with chewed sleeves
And stained elbows –
Jewels, roundly prized.

Then the piercing.
Innocently, with a bradawl. Or a meat skewer.
Maybe a lump of plasticine or blu tac under,
Eyes half closed, concentration
The intent brute force of 13 year muscle.
Old laces, the plastic end long lost, frayed.
Rolled in saliva, sharpened to a quill point,
Eyed through, knotted –
Ready for war.

Some baked them, long and slow.
Others soaked them in cider vinegar, or linseed.
All agreed, size wasn’t the prize.
The big ones, lustrous, fleshy, glitzy even
Cuff polished – but an easy target;
They would snap and die with a dull thud
Their lemon yellow flesh ripped open.
The best were like gobstoppers,
Coppery dark, ever-so wrinkled;
Hard to pierce, ominous.
Their weight belied their size;
They hung on a straight lace, plumb.
My view? Last year’s crop, well hidden.
But who knows?
And who cares when they whistle and swing,
Trailing destruction, shrapnel, bomb casings –
And the winner’s spoils, hanging,
Forlorn, like scalps around the collar.

Today though
The conkers lie dying.
One tree, just up from us,
Is gnarled and proud and fecund –
But it’s spawn lie at its feet,
Crushed by trainers and the knobbly wheels
Of strollers and flat-land mountain bikes.
No plastic bags of sweating treasure –
No skiffs or junks of the teenage trader –
Just silly rules, “health and safety”…
And childhood memories never known.

 

National Poetry Day, 2016

Ditch Diggers

They dug the ditches deep back then;
They had to –
Beating back the boundaries
Of nature’s millennia
Never had an adze or briar hook been seen
Until then.

Narrow blades; course hammered,
Drain spades and trench shovels
Lugged and bent
Where the shaft hooked the housing;
Sure footing for the sure-footed boot
To stand on, force, rend, cut.

The Navvy’s forebears,
Local stock, not travelled,
Except by foot or ox cart
Descended like bloody midges, swarming
To the Mop Fairs, hiring out blistered hands,
For work, for women, for wealth.

And they broke –
Broke the turf-sods and clod-soil,
Broke the rootstock and tap shoots,
Broke, with badging tools and sickle-scythes;
Broke, with froes and beet hooks;
Broke their backs for coppered toil.

These days, we dig and cover –
The shovel-scoop of the iron ox forces, rends and cuts
The drains, grey tubes, flushing, free –
But look close,
Where the litter lies in the old hedge line
Where the soft mud gathers, draped in half-mulched leaves –

There, lie the shallow trenches
There, the mark of the old ditch diggers
Cruddy trickles;
Chip wrappers, rusting beer cans
Their memoriam;
Their last will, their testament.

Doggerland

Far out, across the choppy billows
Pushed up by the shallows of the Dogger Bank
Probing lights sweep the wave tops
Blinking spots on a radar screen
Focus down, target the shoal
Unbeknown, the flicking shards below
Silver-backed, iridescent, pearly-oil slicks
Of the herring-hive, dart and flare
Their fate ominously stalking

Weighted nets plunge and drag
As the coughing diesel bucks and pulls
The mighty haul plunges too
Into the inner depths
Of that greasy tub,
Tomorrow’s fodder, soon dispatched, soon packed

Back on the slippery quay
A catch of a different kind
Is left in wonderment
No pennies here for the grizzled fisherman
No exotic flatfish for Billingsgate or La Boqueria

Bones, bones…
Stripped of flesh, polished
By the gentle swash and wash
On the sand armed sea floor
Bones, bones…
Thigh bones like the Flintstones
Antlers of mega deer
Ivory, pocked with cavities, long-term decay
Bones, bones…
Clues of a different land
Remnants of grasslands and river banks
Memories of once great plains
That swept from Pacific to Atlantic
Scarified by bitter winds
Sun baked and buzzing with life

The last remnants –
The reminders of the past –
Our past, of Doggerland,
And maybe, of our tomorrow

Some look to the sea

Some look to the sea.
It’s in their bones, somehow;
Deep within, buried, innate –
In their very marrow, their blood,
Maybe not real, except to them –
Inexplicable, but there all the same.

Some look to the land.
Grains through their fingers
A brittle loam, dry, yet life packed,
A call – of the river bank, of the oak
A call – of the path, of the long grass
Silent, but there all the same.

Some look to the sea.
An iron rod, yanked by a magnet
The irresistible tug of the moon
On man or wolf, gentle, relentless
Unheard, undetectable
Unseen, but there all the same.

Some look to the land.
They feel it, heavy on their shoulders
Gravity weighing on them alone
No burden though – inescapable joy
Oneness, connection, shared beginnings
Unprovable, but there all the same.

Piston Slap

It started with dripping oil,
Dark smudges, smeared by tyres
Pounded into the new-laid tegula
Dusty blurs, like human shadows
Following a nuclear strike

Then gargling, spitting
A mist of greasy invective
Black words, barking
From the tailpipe, exhausted
A hail of mechanical fatigue

So in it went, to an ‘engine shop’ –

Spluttering, gargling to the far side of Needwood –
Trent one-side, power station the other
Flush to the canal, banged up behind
The digger plant and an old signal box;
Bletch-covered sleepers under edge-rusted rails

Yet lo! Empowered by oil
Uplifted by wrenches and spanners
Tar-smeared power tools
Pits, winches and inch-thick chains
I transformed. The engineer. Stephenson. Brunel.

Me.

It’s likely the stem seals”, he said
Or maybe the inlet rings.”
Hopefully not a re-bore
I bluffed, a parry. Nothing more.
Might do”, he rumbled, gruffly

But who was to know?
Emboldened, now I dared to speak
The lost tongue of my father;
And before him, his father, William
Or Frank, his step-father, engineers all.

And the language of George,
Grandad, Mum’s side –
The tinkerer, the fixer, the trucker
Whose thick palms, nimbly dexterous
Were ingrained with oil and engines.

Never me.

So I animatedly spoke to my dad
Of O rings and rod nuts
Of engine shops and re-bores
Of widgets and grommets
Of gaskets and piston slap

His world, his words,
So I thought,
Benignly he listened; gently he shook his head
Amused and bemused
By my fluent influency.